NZ Railway Engineers in Samoa, 1914

NZ Railway Engineers in Samoa, 1914

Members of the New Zealand Railway Engineers unit in Samoa pose alongside their commandeered German narrow-gauge locomotive, now bearing the letters 'NZR' (New Zealand Railways). The figure on horseback is Captain Percy St John Keenan, a career soldier who served as staff officer for the Railway Battalions before the war. He was initially chosen to command the Railway Engineers in Samoa, before being appointed Adjutant of the 3rd Auckland Regiment. Lieutenant Bert Christophers subsequently assumed command of the railwaymen.

One of the men leaning against the engine has been identified as Sapper Peter Stanley Marriott, an NZR locomotive fireman who was later wounded while serving with a trench mortar battery on the Western Front.

One of the Railway Engineers described their work in a letter published in the Evening Post, 11 November 1914:

Fortunately, on arrival it was found that the Germans had already constructed a light railway to the wireless station, but the line being in disrepair, a gang of surfacemen under Lieutenant Christophers, late of Engineers' staff at Ohakune, was soon at work in the blazing sun, lifting, ballasting, and relaying rails. The total length of railway now in service is about eight miles, including the various lines to plantations. A petrol locomotive engine, manufactured by the Telefunken Wireless Co.*, was soon overhauled, and is now capable of hauling a maximum load of five tons at a maximum speed of twelve miles per hour. The engine is now employed conveying stores, etc., from the water front to Vaea Camp, where the Railway Corps is encamped. A frequent service was instituted, and for several days the ‘train’ averaged 30 trips per diem between Apia and Vaea. The engine is now branded N.Z.R. and has been christened A1, but the men miss exceedingly the customary whistle of an ‘A’ class engine. Enginemen Sutherland [W.A. Sutherland] and Smyrke [E.W. Smyrk] are requested to arrange to have a whistle affixed to the engine.

*Other sources suggest the locomotive was manufactured by the Motorenfabrik Oberursel in the Taunus hill region near Frankfurt.

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